This year, the Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nunez celebrates two decades with the company, most of them as principal. Here’s a ballerina at the peak of her extraordinary lyrical and dramatic powers – nowhere are these more apparent than in the role of doomed heroine Giselle, who goes from shyly lovestruck girl in the first act to grieving ghost in the second, weightless amid the attenuated branches of a haunted glade.
Such is the sureness of Nunez’s technique that she etches every step with emotional nuance and musical sensitivity, from her hope-filled hops on pointe during the harvest merrymaking to the spectral sostenuto drift of her arms.
When her beau Albrecht’s duplicity is revealed – he’s not actually a peasant like her, but a thrill-seeking nobleman with a supercilious fiancée – Nunez makes legible the humiliation of heartbreak, a frenzy of denial and tortured remembrance.
As Albrecht, Federico Bonelli (replacing Vadim Muntagirov due to illness) manages to mix class-based entitlement with a sincere sense of captivation that modulates into the open-chested imploring of his second act solos.
Throughout the ranks, the Royal Ballet are at their best. In Act I’s russet and ochre Rhineland idyll, the pas de six is danced with sunny shapeliness and speed (Yasmine Naghdi’s a delight) while the massed Wilis – spirit girls out for revenge on men – make even the smoothest tendu replete with baleful intent. Tierney Heap excels as imperious Wili queen Myrtha, turning in arabesque like an uncanny weather vane detecting errant Y-chromosomes on the night air.